Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Bookstores Pay Us Not to Go There

Photo: Barnes and Noble icon, from  (Notice the brick and mortar name and the .com.)

So a few days ago I walk into the only large (chain) bookstore left in all of Rhode Island: Barnes and Noble.  I wanted to go there because a) I'd forgotten if I'd pre-ordered Stephen King's latest, Dr. Sleep, his sequel to The Shining.  (For the record, I'm a little concerned about how I'll like the motorcycle gang, but we'll see.)  I ask the guy behind the help desk to look it up in my account, and it turns out that I hadn't pre-ordered it.  I ask him if I can do so, using this 20% extra coupon I'd been emailed, and hoping I'd be able to use it with the 40% off new hardcovers usually come with, and maybe even the 10% off I sometimes get because I'm a member.  (I realize that hoping to get 70% off a new Stephen King hardcover is extremely unrealistic, but as my previous blog entry mentioned, these are some hard times.)

He says No, that Barnes and Noble doesn't offer discounts on the pre-ordered books through because new books ordered online are already greatly reduced.

"How much reduced?" My ears perked up, because I like things greatly reduced these days.

He explains that to buy it in the store, I'd have to pay the $28 (or so) price, plus tax.  That's over $30.  I'd get the 30% off, not the 40%, and I'd get an additional 10% for being a member, and that's it.  No other coupons allowed.  No 20% additional from the coupon.  I was about to start a discussion about the meaning of the word "additional," as in, the coupon says "get an additional 20% off," but instead I ask him how much it would be to just pre-order it online.

"Nineteen dollars," he said.

Huh?  I quickly figured that 10% of $28 was $2.80, and that twice that was $5.60, and that twice that was $11.20 (that's the 40% off total, for those not so mathematically inclined), and that $30 (with tax) minus $11.20 was $19.80--essentially what it would cost me to sit on my butt at home and order it from there.  Plus, I wouldn't have to pay shipping, because I'm a member and I get that for free. And no money spent on gas, etc.

This gave me pause.  I told the guy I gave him credit for bringing the whole online thing up to begin with, as I had been ready to buy it from the store the week of September 23rd.  I said it was especially good of him to mention it, since everyone who orders a book at, and not at the store, makes his job more and more obsolete.  It also would make obsolete the jobs of the cashiers and the cafe workers, and it would negate the sales of a great many other books and magazines that are sold to people who come into the store to buy A, and who leave the store buying A, B and C.  From my experience, people who go online to a bookstore website to buy A end up buying A and that's it.  ("From my experience" here means me and a few friends.)

He acknowledged all of this, though it was clear that he hadn't considered all this before, and nobody had had the gumption (or the arrogance) to bring all this up to him before.  Times being what they are, I pre-ordered the book and had it delivered for free to my house, feeling badly as I did so, but at least congratulating myself for not waiting a few weeks or a few months and then buying it for just a couple of bucks on Amazon or Ebay.

To make myself feel a little better, I looked for a baseball card checklist / price guide I needed, but I was told that they didn't carry it in stock, but that their website did.  Sigh.  I bought a couple of coin books I needed instead, feeling that Barnes and Noble was at this point working against me as I tried to buy something in its store.  I had to go through entirely too much hassle and brainpower to do so.

In the long run I'll have to admit defeat.  Before long, the workers behind the registers, in the cafe, behind the help desk, and in the rows of books won't have a job, and the stockholders and CEO of Barnes and Noble will make more money because they won't have any workers to pay.  And there won't be even one large bookstore in my entire state.  Somewhere in there (though Stephen King himself probably doesn't need the money) the writers themselves, and the book publishers, will end up somehow getting screwed, as more and more people buy "books" online and then read them on their electronic devices, never having to actually be verbal with another person as they do so.  For this, book-makers will disappear, as will printers, type-setters, and all the middlemen who are responsible for the sometimes high price of books--but who also keep the economy going by being a necessary worker, and by holding a job.  This in turn makes them money, which they would spend on things that would also necessitate the jobs of other people.  The economy is a house of cards this way, and it's all going to someday blow down.

People will wonder why the economy got so bad.  And there won't be any economics books to teach them.

Or the teachers, for that matter.  But that's another blog.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ebay and Letting Go

Photo--Former ebay logo in an office hallway.  From

I've discovered ebay lately, much to my happiness and my chagrin.  Happiness because I now own about 25 1908-1910 T206s, as well as a few 1935 Diamond Stars and a couple of more Goudeys.  (These are all popular, yet usually-expensive, baseball cards.)  I also now own 1 1887 N172 tobacco card in very good condition, and a great Pedro Martinez-autographed, bigger than 18 X 20 photo, in a walnut frame, with "2004 W.S. Champs" after his autograph.  It is one of the most beautiful things I've ever owned.

So why the chagrin?  Well, let me put it this way: I've shut down the account for now, and there are Post-It reminders on my laptop (which I usually type these on) to not bid on anything else for the foreseeable future.  I have become very good at winning bids.  I have a great system.  This is also a good and a bad thing.  The only specific I'll give is that the 1887 card cost $104 and change, and that's a steal for the card.

This was all well and good but for the hit-and-run driver who smashed into the back of my car as I was stopped in front of a side street that led to the parking lot of my job.  I got hit hard, and was dazed for a bit, and got some neck soreness and a fat lip--and just over $4,300 in damages.  The insurance covers most of that, thank God, but a $1,000 deductible still is what it is.  Considering what I spent on ebay, that was the absolute wrong thing at the wrong time.  (Though I admit that I could have been hurt much more than I was.)

So now the second part of the title of this blog entry: Letting Go.  I have to let go of the hopelessness that you feel that someone could smash into your car and drive away, and the woman who was a witness to it--who was, in fact, hogging the whole side street so that I had no choice but to stop to let her out--did not stay for the cop, or at least offer her name and number, or call 911, or anything.  She saw the car that hit me.  She must have seen it drive away, unless she was too busy driving away herself.  So I have to let go of the anger and bitterness of that whole situation.

But I also had to let go of a couple of things I've had for awhile.  I had to sell a couple of things because I needed the cash on hand.  I have some savings, but I have to leave it there in case something else like this happens.  I went through some of my many baseball things--which I don't usually do--and I had to sell a couple of my baseball things--which I never do.  After reviewing what I had, I set aside a second Dustin Pedroia autograph (this one on a baseball; I have a better one on a large autographed World Series photo of him) and about 50 to 75 baseball cards.

Letting go of the Pedroia ball hurt a little bit, but that's why you get duplicate autographs, right?  This one I got at a Picnic in the Park at Fenway a few years ago; the woman I was dating at the time paid for the expensive tickets and took me, and I had the time of my life--as well as many Sox autographs.  (One of my favorite memories was throwing a baseball against the Green Monster for a few hours on a perfect afternoon.  My spot was just to the left of the Jimmy Fund boy in the circle.)  Anyway, the ball (which had George Kottaras's autograph, too, and you can go to the front of the line if you remember him) reminded me of that day, and so I was sort of sorry to see it go.  I have other autographed baseballs from that day, but still.  I sold it for $50.  I would have asked for more, because it sells consistently on ebay for $85-$120.  I asked for $60 and settled for ten dollars less because I sold it to a co-worker, and he's a very nice guy.

Then I called a guy who had come to one of my yard sales this past summer.  We'd talked a bit and he'd mentioned that he liked older baseball cards, of which I have a plentiful supply.  It took me awhile to decide what to part with, and the way the sale went down, I had to part with a card I'd rather not have had to sell, a 1975 Topps George Brett Rookie Card.  This had been given to me when I was about 14, so I've had it for a very long time.  The book value on it was $40 to $80 in Near Mint condition, which my card maybe was, or maybe was just short.  I also sold 99 commons with it, and a 1975 Topps Steve Carlton, Phil Neikro, Hank Aaron, Dave Winfield (book value--$30 to $50), and Robin Yount rookie card (in faded condition).  I got $100 for all of that, which is a pretty fair deal for both the buyer and the seller.  You never get book value for cards.  It's impressive that I even came close.

Anyway, letting go of that Brett card hurt more because I've had it for so very long.  When I looked at it, I remembered the me that I was at that age.  It was also one of the more valuable cards I've had in my collection since I started collecting at age 12 or so.  But I needed the money, and it was all profit, since I didn't pay for any of the 1975 cards.  And I was never particularly fond of the 1975 cards anyway.  They're really hard to get in decent condition because of the color patterns Topps made them with.  And I'm more into pre-1970 cards, anyway.  The 70s, with maybe the exception of the 78s or 79s, were an ugly time for Topps.

Ebay makes letting go a little easier.  If it gets too much for me, I can just buy another one, maybe in better condition, maybe for even less than I just sold it for.  Years ago, it would have been impossible to replace a 1975 Topps George Brett rookie card if you'd sold it.  Now, it's just a mouse click away.

And I feel that letting go, and adapting, is necessary for growth.  And I've never been particularly good at doing that.  Not that keeping that Brett card forever would have been a bad thing if I'd liked it, or if I'd wanted to wait for it to increase in value.  But it probably wouldn't have gone up that much more anytime soon (although all vintage cards increase in value over time, just because they're old), and I never really liked the card in of itself.  I much prefer '51-'53 Bowmans and '52 and '53 Topps, as well as the '44 and '45 cards, and the 1887 N172s and, of course, the T206s.

I'm moving on, and I needed the money, and I like other cards now (and they're more expensive because they're so much older).  I've changed, and not just in my baseball card preferences.  I would not have been able to sell the Brett card 10 years ago, and maybe not even in the last few years.  But that's what you do with free stuff you're not attached to by anything more than nostalgia, right?

It's possibly a short story in of itself: a card given to me for free when I was 14 was sold (with other cards, but the Brett rookie was the creme de la creme of my 75s, and of the 1975 set in general) for about $75 to $80, with all of the other cards selling for about $20 to $25.  It's going to a new home now, and I know that this is inappropriate personification, but I asked the guy to treat it well, and to display it well.  He said he would, though I have my doubts, as he said he has a billion other cards, including many T206s, just hanging out in bureau drawers or something.  (I asked him to call me about the T206s.)  It's fulfilled its purpose for me, as it turns out, and so I hope it's good to someone else, too.

And if it sounds like I have some separation anxiety about it, it's because I do.  But you have to let go, right?  You have to adapt and change.  That's what the hoarders can't do--and I see now that it's possible to be an emotion hoarder, too.

P.S.--If you're interested in buying any baseball cards, send me an email (the address is at the top of this blog page, with all of my other associations) or place a comment, and I'll get back.  Let me know what you need, and if I've got it, we can talk.  The T206s and the 1887 card are not for sale.

Friday, September 13, 2013

It's Been Awhile--and More Quick Jots

So I've been away for much longer than usual.  Exhaustion, work, sinus infections and some serious insomnia (so bad that, despite a lifetime with the issue, I had to take a sick day for it for the first time), but I'm plugging along.  Here are a few quick considerations in the meantime:

--From the Sick World File, as per my last blog entry about this sick, crazy world, I offer you the story of three teens who beat to death a father of 12, grandfather of 23, while he was collecting cans in an alley for some money (which you would need with 12 children and 23 grandchildren).  As if that weren't horrible enough, it turns out that one of them filmed it on his cellphone, and then uploaded it to his Facebook page.  The reason?  Same as the one other teens gave when they shot a college ballplayer a few weeks ago: they were bored.

Filming a murder.  Laughing during the filming.  Posting a murder to Facebook.  Killing...for fun.

What the hell is going on?!?  Read it for yourself here.

--Speaking of which, the teens who beat to death the World War II vet in his 80s in Washington state recently pled not guilty today.  Although they, and the beating, were videotaped by security cameras.

--And one of them said the man was trying to cheat them in a crack deal.  I couldn't make that up.

--This past Sunday night, a neighbor and I met in the street while I put my barrels out.  We talked about the Patriots game, the Sox game, and the tennis match, that we coincidentally both watched.  Then I went back in and started yet another three-hour night of sleep.  He went to bed early, as usual.  And did not wake up.

--I'll miss meeting up with you at the mailbox and talking sports, my old friend.  Shine on.

--It can happen just that suddenly.

--And not just to my neighbor, who was in his 80s.  The guy murdered in Washington state was in his 80s, and the guy in the alley probably was, too.

--If I'd known that the Sox would make beards like those the Seven Dwarfs had the new big thing, I would have kept mine.  It wasn't in Mike Napoli's range, but it got very full and gnarly when I just didn't give a damn about shaving.

--The Patriots are a very ugly 2-0.  But as a co-worker said today, a win's a win.

--Putin isn't making Obama look bad.  That's a whole lot of nothin' right there.  Putin's the same guy who has recently sung bad songs to celebrities, who poses without his shirt, and who does many other things to increase his own visibility.  The surprising thing here is that he did a relatively restrained thing, like write a commentary for the New York Times.

--Though he's certainly not as popular and well-loved by the world as he was six years ago, Obama is still very well-liked and well-respected.  Nobody could have kept up his past level of world love.  But to say he's now unliked by the world is ridiculous.  You're talking about Obama's predecessor there.

--Up next: a blog entry about the evils of ebay.